Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Written by: Lainey Huffman
Edited by: Shania Kuo
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more and more people have turned to video games as a means for socialization - but what has the impact really looked like for the gaming world?
Due to the pandemic, people are looking to video games and online communities as their means of socialization now more than ever. According to a study by Johannes et al. (2020), “Video-game internet traffic in America rose by 75% within a week in March” of 2020, when lockdowns first began. Additionally, there has been a 46% increase in the United States alone. Naturally, gaming provides an outlet for passing time, and time seems to be something people have a lot of since COVID-19 has become the norm. One common dilemma people face is a lack of contact with the outside world, but gaming allows for this socialization to still be possible. However, we must ask ourselves if gaming is actually a good way to keep a healthy state of mind during the pandemic. What are the pros and the cons of an online world?
For starters, the gaming industry has been thriving since the pandemic began. According to Noah Smith from The Washington Post (2020), Microsoft has reported a “130% increase in multiplayer engagement,” Nintendo sales have been “up 24% year-over-year,” and Twitch saw “1.49 billion gaming hours watched in April” of 2020, or a 50% increase in watch hours. Since people are bored at home, the gaming world has become a natural magnet. Where access to communication with others was once easily provided through school, work, or other social engagements, we are now restricted because of COVID-19 rules and regulations. However, it takes minimal effort to log onto a video game and hop in a voice chat or join a Discord server, so people are receiving much-needed socialization through the gaming world. Now, the only question is whether these numbers will continue to increase.
Along with the increase in overall video game traffic, there has been some evidence of increased mental and emotional well-being of individuals in lockdowns. People have been able to gain socialization through games during physical isolation. For example, Health and Wellbeing Strategic Researcher Hannah Marston (2020) found in a study that “games can be tools for social connectedness and psychological healing for older adults and intergenerationally” (1). Video games are usually associated with younger generations, but Marston has found that video gaming has connected multiple generations during the pandemic. Aside from avoiding social isolation, there have been studies on video games improving and strengthening the mental health of individuals. They can provide certain feelings such as “a sense of freedom and competence, improving the players’ sense of well-being while they play,” (Economist 2020). The pandemic has brought stress and drastic change into everyone’s lives, so gaming has been a major outlet for this stress during lockdowns all over the world.
Although there is plenty of evidence on how games are helping mental health during the pandemic, some researchers are arguing that the excessive gaming during lockdowns have resulted in negative side effects. For example, there is a serious issue with cyberbullying and harassment in the online sphere as the internet allows for emotional expression without consequences. Professor Thorsten Quandt (2018) at the University of Münster in Germany coined the term “Dark Participation,” which is “characterized by negative, selfish or even deeply sinister contributions such as ‘trolling,’ strategic ‘piggy-backing’ on journalistic reputation, and large-scale disinformation in uncontrolled news environments” (40). In simpler terms, dark participation means to join in on online harassment, hate campaigns, trolling, or any form of mass misinformation. It’s definitely not an unknown concept in the gaming world, and the increasing amounts of people gaming during the pandemic has caused these issues to escalate.
In addition to dark participation, many individuals easily develop gaming addictions because of the stress relief it provides. During the pandemic, CassioburyCourt (2020) tells us that gaming addictions have only been on the rise with a “30% spike in gaming addiction” cases. Addiction often develops from a pathologic attachment to gaming that occurs from the stress relief it provides. However, once gaming elevates into an addiction, it can actually cause stress, depression, and sleep disorders to become worse. Individuals with gaming addictions often find themselves continually avoiding responsibilities, and stress levels can rise because of these avoidances.
Overall, there has not been extensive study on video game effects in the specific circumstances that the pandemic has brought onto the world. Since we are still in the midst of it, most of the research on gaming during the pandemic is still in progress, but the interest is definitely there. Despite the lack of published research, it is important to be aware of the possible downfalls that too much gaming can bring. Video gaming has potential to be extremely helpful and a powerful tool for mental well-being, but every individual has to learn their limits and know when it becomes too much, especially with the excessive free time and lack of socialization this pandemic has provided.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please check out these resources below.
Professional, psychological help resources and helplines:
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for the national suicide prevention lifeline, call 911, or text MHA to 741-741 to reach a trained crisis counselor.
Gaming organizations that support mental health for gamers:
Desatoff, S. (2020, November 24). “Mental Health in the Gaming Community Amid the Pandemic is the Focus of a New my.games Survey.” GameDaily. https://gamedaily.biz/article/1932/mental-health-in-the-gaming-community-amid-the-pandemic-is-the-focus-of-a-new-mygames-survey
Hern, A. (2020, November 16). “Video Gaming Can Benefit Mental Health, Find Oxford Academics.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/nov/16/video-gaming-can-benefit-mental-health-find-oxford-academics
Jamieson, A. (2020, November.) “Online Gambling, Gaming Addiction Has Increased During COVID-19: Tips That Can Help.” https://www.healthline.com/health-news/online-gambling-gaming-addiction-has-increased-during-covid-19-tips-that-can-help
Johannes, N., Vuorre, M., & Pryzbylski, A. (2020, November). “Video Game Play is Positively Correlated with Well-Being.” https://psyarxiv.com/qrjza/
Marston, H., & Kowert, R. (2020, June 2). “What Role can Videogames Play in the COVID-19 Pandemic?” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7453828/
“Playing Video Games in Lockdown Can be Good for Mental Health.” (2020, November). https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/11/27/playing-video-games-in-lockdown-can-be-good-for-mental-health
Quandt, T. (2018). “Dark Participation.” Media and Communication. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327652316_Dark_Participation
“Rise in Gaming Addiction During COVID-19.” (2021, February 05). https://cassioburycourt.com/2020/11/rise-in-gaming-addiction-during-covid-19/
Smith, N. (2020, May 14). “The Giants of the Video Game Industry Have Thrived in the Pandemic. Can the Success Continue?” https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/05/12/video-game-industry-coronavirus/
Zhu, L. (2020, September 09). “The Psychology Behind Video Games During COVID‐19 Pandemic: A Case Study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hbe2.221
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